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Police are investigating after a man was pictured cruelly pulling a seagull with a lead in Blackpool this week. Elizabeth Gomm says the maligned birds are friends, not pets, and asks you to throw them a bone

Three years ago, in the earliest days of the first Covid 19 lockdown, I forged a new friendship.

Victor came into my life at precisely the time we were being told to restrict the time we spent away from home and to avoid social contact. All this time later, he’s a firm friend and I enjoy the pleasure of his company for a little while each day. Sometimes, I get to see his partner, Victoria, too.

They are no ordinary couple. Victor and Victoria are herring gulls. They live somewhere on or around Victoria Hospital, Blackpool. I walk past there every day.

In lockdown, with few people about to drop food waste, Victor was a hungry bird and he was also unhappy. I started feeding him every day, and I still do. He waits in pretty much the same place every day, and if he’s not there he will arrive within a few minutes of me walking along the road.

People ask how I know it’s him, I can’t say precisely, but I know him just as he knows me. There’s something about his shape and the way the walks. He walks or flies over to where I am and happily eats from my hand.

We have built up a mutual trust. He knows he is safe with me and that I will bring him food.
I am under no illusion about having a special relationship, I know it is cupboard love and that is fine with me.

They store food in their crops ‘for later’, much like the late Queen with the marmalade sandwich in her handbag!

I will not make any apologies for loving gulls, in all their various forms. Herring gulls are my favourite. They are resilient, highly intelligent and adaptable. A lot of people hate them and I have suffered the wrath of some of the anti-seagull brigade. Some passers-by tell me I shouldn’t feed “vermin” and one woman went to the lengths of taking my photograph which she said she was going to send to the police because she claimed it was illegal to feed seagulls.

I know they are not vermin and nor is it unlawful to feed a gull. Fortunately, I have met more people who like them than those who hate them. A lot have their own tales of their special gulls. #Myfriendvictor has built up a little fan club via my Facebook and Instagram posts and his appearances on a group dedicated to seagulls on Facebook.

Herring gulls need all the human friends they can muster. Sadly, they are an endangered species and they need our help if they are to survive. They are now on the RSPB’s red list of endangered birds. Why are they declining in numbers? Because their nesting sites have disappeared, our over-fished seas have been depleted, and an increase in recycling has seen food sources dwindle.

Can you imagine Blackpool without the raucous cries of the herring gulls, the skies without their swooping forms? It would be a much duller place. Herring gulls are as much a part of British seaside as buckets and spades and candyfloss.

My son reckons I’m the only person who buys gravy bones for the birds

They are magnificent creatures full of character. If they are clever enough to queue up outside the Pound Bakery to or to snaffle a bag of crisps from Greggs, who can blame them? Yes, and if you insist on eating out of doors, you might lose the odd chip or sandwich. You take the risk, so don’t complain. You drop litter and they’ll clear it up.

I only feed Victor and Victoria and their young for the short time they are about. I know what they like and on the rare occasion that we have chips I always save some for them. They get excited by these but turn their beaks up at boiled potato.

They like bread, pasta, eggs, cheese – pretty much any leftovers. They gobble up what food they can when they can. It’s not greed – they store food in their crops ‘for later’, much like the late Queen with the marmalade sandwich in her handbag!

Cat biscuits, swan food and dog biscuits all go down well. If there hasn’t been much rain, I’ll soak the biscuits first. My son reckons I’m the only person who buys gravy bones for the birds – gulls and crows. Two highly intelligent species that have a lot in common.

I will continue invest time and energy into the welfare of my two feathered friends and their offspring and, as they can live up to 30 years, I may well have to make provision for them in my will!

“To Victor and Victoria I bequeath a lifelong supply of gravy bones.”

Elizabeth Gomm is a former newspaper journalist who is passionate about photography with a special interest in birds and all things Blackpool

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